3 Lifestyle Risks for Breast Cancer Recurrence

Learning you have breast cancer can be devastating. After you've completed treatment, the last thing you want to worry about is developing breast cancer a second time. Fortunately, you can significantly reduce your risk for breast cancer recurrence by addressing three lifestyle-related risk factors: being overweight, smoking, and drinking excess alcohol.

Lifestyle and Breast Cancer

The evidence has been accumulating for years that lifestyle and cancer risk are related. In fact, in 2009, the American Institute for Cancer Research estimated that 38 percent of breast cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes.

Studies also demonstrate a link between human behavior--especially obesity--and risk for breast cancer recurrence. While cancer death rates are decreasing, the absolute number of new cancers and cancer deaths is increasing. Researchers believe that as the incidence of smoking declines (smoking is the number one cause of preventable death), obesity will soon become the major cause of most cancers. Since there are more than two million breast cancer survivors in the United States, reducing the rate of recurrence is significant.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology examined obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking on the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

They found that:

  • Women who are overweight when diagnosed with breast cancer the first time are 50 percent more likely to develop breast cancer a second time;
  • Women who drink seven or more drinks per week increased their risk for recurrence by 70 percent;
  • Those who smoked doubled their risk; and
  • Women who smoke and drank more than seven drinks weekly increased their risk of recurrence by 700 percent.

The researchers noted that although there's an identifiable relationship between modifiable risk factors and breast cancer recurrence, it does not mean that modifying these behaviors will reduce the rates of a second bout of breast cancer. However, given the growing body of evidence, it makes sense to take the steps you can to reduce your risk.

Certain foods and nutrients can help women maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of death from breast cancer by as much as 50 percent. In studies, women who ate the largest amount of poultry, total protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids had a statistically significant lower risk of death. Diets heavy in fiber, fish, and vegetables also reduced risk of death.

So, to reduce your likelihood of developing breast cancer a second time, eat a healthy diet and exercise to prevent obesity, don't smoke, and minimize your alcohol consumption.


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